Nantucket’s commercial scalloping fleet will end the 2022-23 season today with 7,197 bushels of bay scallops landed, more than doubling last year’s harvest.
The rebound in the number of bushels from last season's near-record low was a welcome sign, according to fishermen and the Nantucket Shellfish Association, but it was tempered by lower prices paid to scallopers and volatility in the wholesale market.
Late Thursday morning, scalloper Keith Day was unloading his catch at the Nantucket Boat Basin, one of the few fishermen still dropping dredges at the end of the season. His assessment?
“It's been the best year I've had in 10 years,” Day said. “Even with the price where it is now, if you still fish and you still grind out on it, it equals out or you can make more than you made last year. There was just not enough last year. It’s been a pretty good season. I’m still getting my limit on the second to last day. Overall, it’s been a good season for me.”
The total of 7,197 bushels for the season nearly doubles the 3,200 bushels landed last season, and is on par with the 7,600 bushels taken during the 2020-21 season. Yet it’s still well off the 13,000 bushels that were harvested from Nantucket and Madaket Harbors as recently as 2017-18. And there are numerous factors in play: while scallop habitat has declined in the harbor, there are also far fewer scallopers in the fleet than just a few years ago.
The season that comes to an end today, however, was a mixed bag for the island’s scallopers still at work in the fishery. There were good-sized scallops in Nantucket Harbor, fishermen said, along with a huge set in Madaket, although those were generally smaller, with less meat. A handful of scallopers told the Current on Thursday that they were getting their five-bushel limit right up until the final day of the season. And the weather cooperated in a big way, with only a portion of one day officially lost due to cold weather below the 28℉ limit.
“The weather’s been unbelievable,” Day said. “It’s been the best year weather-wise. The hatchery is doing its job. There’s plenty of seed out there, even with all the talk about the harbor and fertilizer, they seem to be adapting and doing well. They yielded probably the best weight in years too.”
But the price being paid to scallopers dropped from $20 per pound at the start of the season, down to $13 per pound. Some of the fleet also had problems selling their catch on Nantucket after Glidden’s Seafood closed in January for several months, and other buyers were hesitant to take on additional fishermen.
“The best way to summarize it would be: more days fished, more bushels caught, lower price,” said one veteran scalloper who was unloading his five-bushel limit at the Boat Basin Thursday morning but declined to be named for this story. “The price was strong until the new year, and then the demand fell off and the shit hit the fan everywhere. It wasn’t just us. My buyer kept buying, which was good. But that’s the first time they said they didn’t want to buy them. That was very unusual. To not be able to find a decent home for it was a little frustrating.”
Samantha Denette, the executive director of the Nantucket Shellfish Association, acknowledged the many factors in play when assessing the success of the commercial scalloping season. The health of the harbor and the scallop population, first and foremost, Denette said, but also the prices being paid to scallopers, retail prices, the challenges of getting them to market, along with the dwindling number of fishermen in the fleet, all have to be considered.
“We’re delighted to see that it’s been a bountiful year as far as the yield,” Denette said. “That’s almost double last year. But bay scallops are finicky little creatures. It’s a cyclical fishery, and there are up and down years - that’s to be expected. There were not as many guys fishing, but they’re fishing full limits longer into the season. It’s hard to predict anything. You can say there’s lots of seed out there, but that’s no guarantee it will live until next year. So there’s an ebb and flow to their population. But after last year being a considerably low year, we’re delighted to see this was a strong year for our fishermen.”